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Findings & Recommendations

This section summarizes the key findings from across the cases, discussing each of the three dimensions of solidarity economy movement.

Consciousness

In all of these cases, aspirations are spreading for transformation towards a more just, sustainable, and democratic world -- the world as it should be. These projects are driven by a vision of democratic community control of businesses, land, housing, and government to ensure that people and planet come before profit. And some groups, like ADP, are purposefully “thinking big … to stake our flag way out ahead.”i Worcester SAGE and Ujima envision building regional “ecosystems” to scale up impact.

Unlike some ideologically-driven movements, there is no requirement that those participating in these initiatives buy into a particular theory of change in order to collaborate or support. In fact, people are attracted from a diversity of ideological perspectives. For example, in Wellspring, there are leaders of anchor institutions who are more politically mainstream but are invested in the project because of its potential to generate jobs. In ADP, even Latino immigrants who may have been more politically conservative in their home countries bought into the overall vision. Many are involved because they are attracted to one aspect of the project, such as good jobs or being more economically independent.

Yet, once involved, there is an opportunity for participants to learn more about solidarity economy and deepen or eventually shift their own theories of change. In Wellspring, the steering committee agreed to join the US Solidarity Economy Network, creating an opening for more learning about the movement. Those who are joining worker coops, even while seeing their work as a job and the need for their business to make money, are also seeing themselves differently. They express the need to be accountable to their workmates and communities. As Sabbatina Konadu says of her experience in Worcester Roots Toxic Soil Busters, “If I’m presented as a youth worker, a coop leader, then I need to educate myself as to what I’m presented as.” And Gary Roby of Wellspring Upholstery Coop echoes the same idea: “If you are going to put the title on yourself of worker owner, you have to live up to that title.”

In worker coops, the process of building solidarity consciousness starts as early as the business development process. A coop academy was critical to help CERO’s founders develop their vision and identity as a coop as well as their business plan. Similarly, SAGE has held coop academies annually since 2013, and CCDS launched its work with a training around cooperatives. For CERO, the process of coop education continues to this day, as they have added two new worker-owners since their founding.

Courtesy of Eastie Farm

While the leaders of these initiatives can articulate a broader theory of change, many of those who are engaging do not yet hold a theory of change. Many do not even use the term solidarity economy. Rather, they articulate the need to resist and reform the current system to better meet immediate needs. Jonathan Feinberg of New Lynn Coalition finds that “not necessarily being explicit about being anti-capitalist is beneficial” because it can help them retain credibility and not turn away “organizations that might be scared off by that kind of language.”

 

The very act of bringing diverse constituencies together is an opportunity to build solidarity consciousness. The New Lynn Coalition and Worcester Community Labor Coalition are bringing together unions and community. The union workers who volunteered to help rebuild Stone Soup did so because they saw that they would be helping those community groups that were allies in efforts to create better jobs. Ujima is bringing together businesses and investors with communities. Wellspring unites anchor institutions with community, labor, and their coops. This level of solidarity is a critical asset to building more awareness of a solidarity economy movement.

Many of the cases found that a pre-existing capitalist mindset is a challenge that needs to be addressed. As ADP’s Tim Fisk says “we all grew up in capitalism and there are traps in our minds.” CCDS’ Monica Leitner-Laserna says that the “challenge really is this individualistic capitalistic model that we’re used to. Why would you share your resources, why would you live in solidarity?” For some who just want a good job, a worker coop may demand more than what they are looking for. Some oppose community land trusts because they want the full benefits (and costs) of the private ownership model.

Additionally, there is still a widespread lack of awareness of alternatives and a skepticism that they are possible, making building and shifting consciousness a key activity for many of the groups. For example, while DSNI’s community land trust has governed land in their neighborhood for almost thirty years, others in the region are still discovering the model and are often confused about how it works. CCDS’s Indira Garmendia believes that the mind shift from capitalism to coops is difficult, even within ourselves. Lack of awareness is why CCDS is beginning with popular education around coops, with an emphasis on why cooperatives are necessary, and why ADP focused much effort to construct the story of their community economy.

These visible models, whether ultimately sustained or not, are critical consciousness-raising resources and powerful reference points. To overcome the skepticism, many groups place considerable emphasis on putting the alternative models into practice, as proof of concept. As Wellspring’s Emily Kawano of says, “we’re playing our part building these stories of viable models.” CERO is often referenced as a visible example of an alternative in action. ADP became an inspirational model for other organizing groups across the country. For Wellspring, Evergreen’s model in Cleveland was a critical inspiration to their formation. CCDS has been inspired by other immigrant-led cooperatives and featured two of them in their coop training.

Courtesy of Alliance to Develop Power

Groups are also inspired by solidarity and cooperative traditions of the past and from other places. Some immigrants come with cooperative experiences from their home countries, as did two of CCDS’ leaders. Worcester Roots Co-Director Julius Jones looks to the history of cooperative thinking and action in black liberation movements. It is this tradition of coops in Black and Latino communities that Wellspring plans to draw upon to further engage communities of color in Springfield, where Wellspring board member Frank Robinson described there can be an attitude that “coops are something that happen in Amherst or Northampton.” A number of Worcester SAGE leaders were inspired by and have connected to solidarity economy movements in South America, such as in Brazil.

An emerging theory of transformation among our cases is the dual power approach to transformation. SAGE’s principles articulate this approach as resisting and reforming the current while also building the alternatives. Worcester Community Labor Coalition’s David Minasian defines dual power as first “redirect[ing] resources to make them as beneficial to our communities as we can” and second “creating the new economy now.” ADP’s Caroline Murray expresses this dual approach as “moving from opposition to governance.”ii CERO’s Lor Holmes says “we’ve got to continue to resist the injustice. At the same time we’ve got to survive, which I think means creating the kind of businesses and economies that help us to live in the full sense of that word…create the alternatives and model them and demonstrate that it’s doable and keep on scaling it.”

A final aspect of consciousness building is healing work. In lower-income communities of color, psychic damage from the trauma of past and current oppression can be a barrier to movement work. These wounds, which are related to the violence and mindset of capitalism, need to be recognized and repaired. Roots Co-Director Julius Jones believes that healing is intentional work that must be undertaken simultaneously with building alternatives. He believes that “coops have capacity to create a healing space, because you have to learn to be a family member with your co-workers. You have to create a culture of acceptance and something that is more than business -- camaraderie and solidarity.” Similarly, CCDS has integrated healing into its work with a women’s domestic violence survivor support group.

Power-Building

Power-building is integrated into all of our cases. Each case involves contending for power, not only to win public policies and resources for solidarity economy alternatives, but ultimately to dismantle support for current systems of exploitation and oppression. Where they vary, sometimes considerably, is in how they integrate community organizing, policy advocacy, and movement building into their work. ADP and New Lynn Coalition started as organizing groups and continue to see their main mission as building power. GBCLTN is involved in advocating for policies supporting land trusts, while many of its members are organizing to strengthen tenants rights. Ujima and Wellspring are making their first priority the incubation of economic alternatives, but that necessitates building governance structures that maintain representation of community base building organizations. SAGE and CCDS have explicitly built this dual power approach into their founding principles. CERO was incubated by two base-building groups and remains active in advocacy efforts as a member of the Boston Recycling Coalition.

Courtesy of Worcester Roots

While all the groups espouse a “both-and” approach to doing reform work and building alternatives, they have had to negotiate a division of labor between the two because of limited resources to do either. As SAGE’s Matt Feinstein explains “in Worcester where there’s limited capacity and only so many of us, it’s figuring out where we can build the alliances so we can have the ecology where everyone doesn’t have to do everything. EPOCA and N2N can do the State House engagement. Other groups can be more focused in youth coop arena, like Worcester Roots. But we can see our struggles as intertwined and do trainings together. But it is challenging.” In many of the cases, it is not just that the same organizations are part of reform and build initiatives, but rather that the same people are wearing different organizational hats.

For the cases focused on building alternatives, it has been challenging to maintain the participation and representation of grassroots base-building groups, which are struggling for resources themselves. Wellspring would like to engage more community groups but recognizes that many have limited staff capacity. Similarly, Ujima is realizing how tough it is to develop a robust governance process when people and organizations are already so busy. As Ujima participant Kathrina St. Flavin noted, “people have a lot going on… [and] being part of Ujima is going to be another responsibility.”

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This competition over existing capacities even extends into organizations that intentionally anchor both reform and build work. In EPOCA, the demands of its biodiesel coop, Empower, pulled people and resources away from its core organizing work. In ADP, there was a key tension between the needs of the nonprofit’s organizing work and the for-profit United for Hire. Coops that want to maintain involvement in organizing and political work have to balance that work with the demands of starting up and running a small business. Worker-owners may not have the time to engage fully when they are working long days just to keep the business going.

Yet, power-building for reform is necessary for the success of the alternatives. Government and policy are key battlegrounds for solidarity economy movement. Supportive public policies and resources are critical to creating the conditions for alternatives to flourish. In other countries where solidarity economy movement has been longer established, such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, and Quebec, agencies and policies have been put in place to support solidarity economy. CERO coop’s business model takes advantage of a state ban on organic waste from large institutions, which was the result of environmental struggles against new landfills and incinerators. Wellspring had to negotiate with the city of Springfield to acquire public land for its new greenhouse. The GBCLTN and its members are organizing to demand “public land for public good,” as well as public resources and technical assistance to help seed new land trusts. SAGE is interested in exploring a state policy campaign to win public funding for cooperative development, as has been recently won in New York City.

The power built in solidarity economy movement can also be applied beyond the arena of government to the private sector. For example, community power can leverage the cooperation and resources of anchor institutions. One of Ujima's strategies is to connect to national and local divest-reinvest movements by creating a viable and attractive reinvestment framework to capture capital that is divested.

Ultimately, the business success of the alternatives is not really the end goal for these initiatives. The broader goal is to build the power to control the economy and the government. As CCDS’s Luz Zambrano explains, “CCDS is not just a place where we are going to have businesses and people are going to get rich. How I see it is that this is a process of giving space for marginalized people to have their own voices, to develop their skills, find who they are, and contribute to the betterment of their families and schools, which will ultimately give residents of East Boston the opportunity to sit on the neighborhood associations and other places in the city where the decisions are made and to be able with power to say I don’t want this to happen in my neighborhood. Instead we want this or that.”

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Power-building heightens several internal challenges within initiatives and the movement. All of the cases are navigating the dynamics of race and class differences. SAGE has been intentional and explicit about building a more racially and class diverse base, since an early self-critique that their first conference was mostly white, college-educated folks. Roots Co-Director Julius Jones notes that cooperatives are included in the Movement for Black Lives platform and that “in coop space, [we are] advocating for more accessibility for Black and Brown people to create coops.”

Differences have also had to be navigated between different peoples of color. For example, CERO was formed out of cooperation between Latino and African American workers. CERO’s Holmes says “we come from worlds where we haven’t had good models for having power in our work lives. We’re also intentionally bilingual, multi-cultural. Black, Brown, White, Latino, African American, queer—everyone is choosing our multicultural workplace, choosing to bridge those differences, where we aim for raising everybody up in their power.”

Courtesy of Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity

All the cases are navigating the dynamics of power relations among organizations, many of which are nonprofits. Several are forging alliances between long-established and better-resourced labor unions and community organizations. And among community groups, some have more funding and staffing capacity while others are just trying to keep themselves going. We see a commitment across our cases to ensure representation for all groups, particularly the community groups with fewer resources, and to adhere to a democratic and transparent internal process. Nonetheless, the limited capacity of community groups makes realizing these commitments a challenge. In the best case, those partners with more resources are lending their support to those with less, such as the unions helping to rebuild Stone Soup.

 

The challenge of pursuing transformational work through the nonprofit sector is acknowledged by many as a feature of the nonprofit industrial complex. The contradiction, as described by Worcester Roots co-director Julius Jones, “is that you have to get resources from the system that you’re trying to change and then you’re trying to change the way that resources are distributed… To own the irony, we’re doing exactly what Audrey Lorde said you shouldn’t do, which is you can’t tear down the master’s house using the master’s tools.”

A major challenge within the nonprofit sector is raising funds specifically to build capacity and support organizing. Wellspring’s Kawano says “we’ve been a whole lot more successful getting funding for the business than getting funding for the nonprofit.” Some groups find it easier to raise project funding than general funding, making them more susceptible to be influenced by funders’ priorities than those of their own constituents. ADP’s Tim Fisk says they developed their bodega project, not “because ADP was organizing people that didn’t have access to food... It was because food was becoming a big thing.”

Courtesy of YES! Magazine, Photo by Paul Dunn

Given that much of the work happens through nonprofits, there is also a need to build organizational governance capacity, including finance and administration. The skills and capacities necessary for operating a nonprofit are not the same as those for organizing and building community. As ADP’s Fisk explains, “I was trying to build a board that included stakeholders from the community that could independently direct the organization,” which for him included being able to analyze financial statements and audits and negotiate contracts with staff.


Despite the challenges of the constraints of nonprofits, the initiatives in our cases are using nonprofit resources to build new institutions that do business differently. A number of organizing groups in our cases are also developing 501c4 and other political organizations in order to overcome the strictures on 501c3 nonprofits of getting involved in partisan electoral politics. New Lynn is explicitly not a 501c3, but gets fiscal sponsorship from one, so that it can have more autonomy.

Economic Alternatives

Our cases show that there are many types of alternatives being explored across economic sectors. Though many of these initiatives are newer or still emergent, some are literally putting “food on my table,” to quote Gary Roby of Wellspring Upholstery Coop. Among the alternatives in our cases, worker cooperatives are the most common form. Perhaps it is not surprising that worker cooperatives are the most common alternative among our cases. Earning wages through a job is the way that many in lower-income communities of color aspire to make a living. To imagine the possibility of owning and controlling that job is then just another step.

Alternatives are also being developed beyond worker coops. GBCLTN is incubating community land trusts as a way of governing land as commons. Several initiatives feature gifting as a mode of consumption, such as ADP’s food coops and the East Boston soup kitchen. Ujima is pursuing democratic community-controlled financing for local businesses.

We must keep in mind that the alternatives that we can build today are, by definition, transitional. Thus, none of the alternatives that are being developed now should be expected to simply outcompete current capitalist institutions. Rather, they are the prototypes and sprouts for future developments and transformation. Alternatives are being developed where existing needs are not being met (such as the numerous coops sprouting in Worcester), new market opportunities are arising (such as CERO’s organic waste business), and where community power can be brought to bear to reorganize markets (as in the anchor institution strategy or taking land out of the market for land trusts).

Courtesy of New Lynn Coalition

There are a diversity of ways that worker coops are emerging. Many are being formed to meet community needs, both in terms of providing goods and services as well as creating good jobs for residents. SAGE and CCDS are incubating coops to provide food, childcare, and landscaping. ADP’s United for Hire provided housing and landscape maintenance and construction. Some are strategically orienting themselves to meet existing market demands in the regional economy. Some of Wellspring’s coops are designed to provide goods and services to the region’s universities and hospitals. CERO is providing recycling and organic waste services to both community businesses and anchor institutions.

Worker cooperatives are also arising from conversions of existing businesses and partnerships with unions. Wellspring’s Old Windows Workshop is an example of a business that is converting to become a coop. In Worcester, the WorX Printing Cooperative is a worker-owned union print shop, affiliated with the United Steelworkers. The New Lynn Coalition also explored the union coop model in its attempt to incubate Freedom Machine Coop.

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Ujima presents another idea for growing economic alternatives – the creation of a community-controlled capital fund. Ujima’s financing will be made available not only to cooperatives but also other locally-owned small businesses. All of the businesses that receive investment must be certified as meeting community standards in terms of how they treat workers, community, and the environment. Ujima’s business certification will not only help to build a pool of customers for community businesses, but also help to build solidarity ties between local businesses and their communities.

The solidarity alternatives also include initiatives that involve collective governance of land and housing, as well as gifting. ADP’s community economy began with tenant ownership and control of affordable housing developments. DSNI’s land trust governs more than thirty acres of land for long-term public benefit. More than 226 units of housing are now on the CLT, including privately owned homes, nonprofit rental units, and cooperatively owned housing. Each of ADP’s developments sponsored “food coops” that are volunteer-run food pantries and funded by surplus. This system of exchange is a form of gifting. Similarly, in East Boston, a new soup kitchen has just opened, where according to Monica Leitner-Laserna, “the volunteers are all low income people helping people who are even more low income.”

These alternatives all coexist alongside conventional capitalist institutions. In some cases, these solidarity businesses compete in markets against other capitalist businesses. In other cases, they control resources won through organizing and policy advocacy. But in all cases, solidarity enterprises rely on power-building strategies and allies to help create more resources and opportunities for them to succeed. ADP’s organizing of tenants resulted in winning ownership of their housing. DSNI’s organizing won control over land and the power of eminent domain to take privately owned land. In Lynn and Worcester, community benefits are demanded from new development, in order to fund community development, including solidarity alternatives. The organic waste market that CERO now serves was created by past political struggles in Massachusetts over solid waste.

To succeed, these alternatives have had to innovate and take unconventional approaches to business development. They are finding ways to get the job done out of necessity. Tim Fisk likens ADP’s organic growth to an old colonial home: “You look at it from straight on and it’s just this square. And then you look at it from the side, there’s an addition and then an addition behind that and an addition behind that. There’s no overarching elegant architecture to this structure, because it had been added to over so much time.” In all cases, nonprofits are part of the ecosystem, providing incubation resources, doing the base building and organizing, and doing the research and development to support new models.

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Courtesy of CERO Coop

The rebuilding of Stone Soup, a million-dollar building for half the cost, was achieved because the community need was urgent and political allies stepped up to help. Even though they did not follow conventional wisdom for development projects, such as having plans finalized and funds secured beforehand, they dreamed big and put the pieces together, doing enough fundraising for each step of the process.

Financing is one of the most difficult challenges for these alternative models. Because many of the initiatives found it difficult to access more conventional sources of capital, they sought out alternatives. CERO started with foundation grants for business planning and development. They then conducted their own crowd-source fundraising online through Indiegogo and raised the funds to do a direct public offering, which raised $370,000 in startup capital. These funds were then matched by solidarity investors (Boston Impact Initiative and The Working World) and foundations (Access Strategies Fund and Chorus Foundation).

Despite these successes in the bootstrap development approach, there remain a number of challenges posed by constrained resources and barriers to capital. First, the incubation of new cooperatives is very intensive and difficult. Startup requires dedicated time and funding, including plenty of sweat equity and labor of love. CERO needed more than two years after its coop academy to raise funds and start operations. Wellspring got a running start with a large foundation grant and some matching funds from a few anchor institutions. But sustaining the nonprofit that supports coop development remains a challenge. In Worcester, the numerous startup coops are all still fairly small and most have yet to grow to a scale beyond a “hobby” business. Freedom Machine coop in Lynn fell through after a number of years of development when the individual funder decided to pull out.

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Another challenge is that these initiatives require specific skills for managing businesses as well as expertise in the specific industry. But it is not as simple as hiring an expert or manager. These managers must also share in the cooperative values. In the Wellspring Upholstery Coop, the manager is a long-time upholstery owner who is nearing retirement. The Stone Soup rebuilding project was managed by an experienced general contractor who was bought into the mission.

The anchor institution strategy, while promising a steady base of customers and perhaps other kinds of support, also has its challenges. As Wellspring’s Fred Rose learned, a challenge with this model of coop development is that the work is defined by anchor demand rather than the interests of coop members. Also, anchors do not see their core mission as economic development, so when Wellspring went back to them for more resources after the initial grants, “it was what are you doing to meet our mission?”

Courtesy of Boston Ujima Project

A persistent challenge in doing the alternative building work is the tension between organizing and business. While ADP achieved a remarkable synergy between organizing and economic control, this tension started to work against them when choices had to be made between funding the organizing versus investing in the business. Some organizing groups believe that business success can eventually fund their nonprofit work. But the experience of incubating coops from nonprofits shows that it is very difficult to start a new business and that, at least in the short term, it is unlikely that a new coop will be able to generate enough surplus to also fund the organizing.

 

Recommendations & Conclusion

Our cases show growing aspirations and attempts to build and live in the world as it should be, rooted in lower-income communities of color across Massachusetts. There is an emerging movement for solidarity economy. At their best, these efforts are:

  • Driven by community need

  • Building solidarity across a spectrum of political perspectives and sectors

  • Inspiring collective dreams of the world as it should be

  • Building power to govern and control political and economic resources

  • Resisting and reforming the current, while building alternatives that can exist now

  • Innovating alternative economic strategies and vehicles that combine nonprofit and for-profit approaches

 

By seeing solidarity economy as a movement in three dimensions, we can assess its growth and the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead. To recap the three dimensions: Consciousness is the intent to transform the world into what it should be and recognizing that we can build from practices that are already in place. Building power creates the means to realize the vision through politics, policy, and government, but is also a fundamental capacity for creating alternative economic institutions. Economic alternatives attempt to meet our needs today and model ways that go beyond capitalism and are also a source of political power.

All three of these dimensions move simultaneously, though not always in the same proportions. There are distinct activities that focus more on one or another of the dimensions. These dimensions are sometimes thought of and worked on separately. For example, some see power-building only in organizing for policy change, consciousness building only in popular education and healing, or alternatives only in worker cooperatives. But we separate these dimensions at the expense of losing transformative potential or missing opportunities for wider and greater transformation.

We all have a role to play in building solidarity, whether we see ourselves as workers, residents, organizers, entrepreneurs, owners, activists, artists, healers, funders, or allies. SEI focuses on the efforts in lower-income communities of color because these are our communities and where we see many seeds sprouting, but solidarity economy movements are growing in many different communities and sectors. For all who share the dream of transformation to a solidarity economy, we hope this report provides useful frameworks, evidence, lessons learned, and inspiration for the work that lies ahead.

We conclude by offering some recommendations for building solidarity economy movement.

See solidarity economy holistically, as a transformative social movement.
Transformation is not going to happen just by planting the seeds for new coops. There are toxic pesticides and concrete in the way that have to be resisted, reformed, and removed. We also need to plough the ground and fertilize the soil of consciousness so that the economic alternatives can take root and sprout.

Be open to the diverse and organic ways that solidarity economy movement can emerge and progress, particularly those that are driven by need.
Our cases show there are many organizational forms, arising from many different origins and from a variety of ideological perspectives. Part of overcoming a capitalist mindset is remaining open to possibilities even against what can seem like overwhelming odds. When there is deep need (to feed families, create jobs, care for one another), there is the possibility for innovating new pathways. These initiatives can emerge from various sectors, such as social service, organizing, policy advocacy, small business, housing, and finance.

Be willing to innovate and be prepared to fail forward.
We need to learn from our practice, and in particular from failed attempts. No efforts are going to be pure examples of solidarity economy values. All are, to an extent, making the road as they walk. As long as public policy and resources are tilted towards exploitive capitalist businesses, solidarity alternatives are not going to simply outcompete capitalist markets. Thus, many solidarity businesses and campaigns will fail. These failures, though, represent assets for the future, if we reuse and repurpose what worked and keep the dream alive. Even though ADP is no longer, its vision still inspires many.

Take an ecosystem approach to building and scaling up solidarity economy movement.
A single organization or initiative cannot do it all and cannot transform the current system on its own. Both SAGE and Ujima envision building an ecosystem of interdependent initiatives in their respective locales. This ecosystem approach also offers a solution to the dilemma of scaling up. We often get trapped by capitalistic notions of scaling up through ever-larger enterprises that grow exponentially. But scaling up can also happen with many smaller and locally controlled initiatives all linking together, the way that viral messaging can spread quickly and expansively.

Support infrastructure for organizing and incubation.
All of these efforts have emerged from an incredible amount of dedication and sweat equity. But those who are organizing and building power at the grassroots and starting up alternatives are not alone. In all of our cases, there are organizing and technical assistance resources provided by existing entities, mostly nonprofits. Despite the tremendous constraints on the nonprofit sector to do transformative work, they are redirecting resources and using the “master’s tools” to build vehicles for the solidarity economy. Funders can play a critical role in supporting these nonprofits that are part of the solidarity infrastructure. While necessity is the mother of invention, with too few resources, good ideas can never take root. General grant support is necessary to give initiatives some running room to experiment and build the vision.

Inspire and connect initiatives across sectors and communities from local to global so that we can learn from one another and scale up.
Many of these efforts were inspired by examples from near and far. Living models, even if not perfect or ultimately sustained, are tangible reference points that expand the boundaries of the possible. Infecting people with the dream or desire of a different world is a prerequisite to building power and creating alternatives that can transform systems. Connecting these initiatives not only helps to build movement power, but also allows for collective learning and innovation. Connections can happen in a very local space, as in Stone Soup being a place for multiple community organizations to mix and deepen relationships. They can also be trans-local, such as connecting with networks and movements in other parts of the US and the world.

Join up a transformative vision with resist, reform, and survival efforts.
Too often, we go only for the “winnable” in our resist and reform campaigns. We critique the structural roots of a problem, but then only aspire to win band-aids or incremental solutions. While these reform efforts are necessary and help make life better and mobilize many people, we need to spark transformative aspirations through this work. Even if we cannot win the transformative demands today, we have to put out a vision of where we want to go. So for instance, a community benefits agreement is not an end in itself, but a step towards controlling and governing development in the first place. But the resources from such a win can be used to gain more control over land and the surplus generated by development. Similarly, there are many practices in our communities that people see simply as survival. We need to lift up these modes and connect them to a solidarity vision.

Build the solidarity finance sector, with funders and investors who see themselves as part of, and not apart from, the movement—as Solidarity Funders.
When funders see themselves as separate from the field, they can be like doctors who do not diagnose the problems with their patients. According to Worcester Roots Co-Director Julius Jones, “if they don’t do a proper intake, then they end up treating a problem that isn’t there or creating a new problem. Funders should come in as co-doctors with community organizers.” As stewards of pooled surplus, funders are not only gifting to transformative initiatives, but also helping to build solidarity finance. Some are already using mission and program-related investments to make an impact beyond grants. Others are funding 501c4s and other vehicles that can go beyond the strictures of 501c3 funding. As part of the movement, funders need to ask themselves not just how to give grants and invest, but also how they can contribute to more democratic allocation of surplus through their own operations and governance.

 

i Conversations on Community Wealth, p. 297.

ii Conversations on Community Wealth, p. 301.